- As a baby, Hannah Sanguineti's son, Sabe, wouldn't made eye contact, let alone cry.
- After fighting to get answers, Hannah's boy was finally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. And so began the path to recovery.
- Here, Hannah, 32, from Curra, Qld, tells the story in her own words.
Bending to pick up a leaf, my boy’s eyes lit up with pure wonder.
‘Look, Mum!’ Sabe, four, exclaimed, turning it over in his palm. As he examined his find, my heart warmed.
Only my beautiful boy could fall in love with a leaf. He’s also enamoured by waterfalls, ducks and rocks, but social situations can baffle our little guy.
When he was just six months, I realised that Sabe was different to most babies. Flicking through family photos, I stopped at a snap of his big sister, Belle, five.
‘What sound does a cow make?’ I’d ask Belle when she was his age.
‘Moooooo!’ she’d bellow.
But Sabe wouldn’t even look me in the eye, let alone mimic a farmyard animal. My bub didn’t even cry!
‘Something’s wrong,’ I fretted to my husband Christian, 40.
Taking our boy to every paediatrician in Perth, we were given no answers.
‘I think he might have autism…’ I told Christian, choking up.
‘It doesn’t matter to us that his brain works differently,’ my beloved hubby replied.
A few months later, Christian came down with tonsillitis, so we went to the doctor’s with Sabe sleeping in his capsule.
Mid-way through the examination, Sabe woke up. Dry-eyed and silent, our bub was in his own world.
The doctor’s attention turned to Sabe.
‘Does he do that often?’ she asked. ‘Yes!’ I replied.
‘That’s unusual,’ she said, listening intently as I told her everything.
Referring us to a developmental clinic, I was given a checklist to measure his progress.
Does your baby coo, giggle, and make eye contact, the questionnaire asked, almost tauntingly.
Circling never over and over again, my heart began to sink.
We now had referrals to countless specialists, but not a diagnosis. Incredibly, the waiting lists were between four months and a year!
So when Christian was offered a job in Queensland, we jumped at the chance to move somewhere with more resources.
Renting out our house, we crossed the country to make a new life.
By now, Sabe was tottering about and making nonsensical sounds. But my little trooper never came to me for comfort.
But just after Sabe’s second birthday, we finally had a diagnosis.
‘Your son has Autism Spectrum Disorder,’ said a specialist.
Relief rushed through me. We could now work towards helping our son.
We were willing to do anything, so when we heard about an intensive early intervention program for autistic kids, we decided to enrol Sabe.
‘It’s $60,000,’ I told Christian.
‘We’ll just have to sell the house,’ he replied.
It was the easiest decision we’ve ever made.
As soon as he started the program, Sabe began to improve. He’d sit still at a desk and knew his colours.
But something didn’t feel right. Sabe was simply regurgitating information, almost in a robotic manner.
Pulling him out after 14 months, we began another program called Neuro-fit.
Through play, it works to connect the brain’s two hemispheres. In the first session, Sabe had to touch his left shoulder with his right hand, squeeze his trainer’s finger with his spare hand and kick his legs at the same time!
‘Good work, Muscles!’ I cheered.
Afterwards, Sabe surprised me. ‘Mummy!’ he yelled from his bedroom.
He never asks for me! I thought, startled. Poking my head in, Sabe smiled and patted the floor next to him.
‘Come play with Sabe?’ he asked sweetly. Bursting into tears, I did just that.
Still, Sabey had his moments. Sometimes he’d run up to a random man on the street, shouting, ‘Daddy?’
Heartbreakingly, he didn’t recognise his own father.
He’s on his own in a sea of anonymous faces, I thought.
Soon, our savings began to run dry. But when we heard about a revolutionary program for parents in the US called Son-Rise, we knew we had to go.
Swallowing my pride, I posted our story on a crowdfunding site.
Amazingly, we raised $43,000 in just one weekend!
Travelling across the world, we left Belle and Sabe with Christian’s brother Peter in Canada and drove to Massachusetts.
‘You need to join your child in their world,’ the teacher explained.
That makes so much sense! I thought.
When Sabe felt anxious, he’d rub his pillow across his lips. Copying him, he stopped in his tracks.
‘Mummy? What are you doing?’ he said.
Crossing into my boy’s reality, he really noticed me. I was no longer an anonymous face!
Recently, we moved into a little rural property, which Sabe adores.
‘Quack, quack!’ he’ll babble to our ducks.
His zest for nature has even rubbed off on Belle, who’s quickly amassing a giant rock collection!
Now, Sabe can chatter for an hour, play with his big sister and tell me when he’s hungry. But best of all, he recognises our faces and expresses his emotions.
We’d go to the end of the earth for our boy. But all we needed to do was meet Sabe in his.
Visit Hannah's blog Recovery Kitchen.
This story was originally published in that's life! Issue 15, 2017.